I’m back and with a new post in my multi-post series on what makes an activity Montessori. Here’s a reminder of the eight qualities of a Montessori activity.
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have a control of error
activate the senses
aid in independence
We are past the halfway point in these posts and today’s topic is the activation of the senses.
“Nothing comes to the intellect that is not first in the senses.”
– Maria Montessori (The Secret of Childhood)
Maria Montessori placed much importance on children experiencing their world through all of their senses. She even designed a sensory curriculum with specific sensorial materials for the primary level, so age 3-6. They are beautiful, multifaceted, and usually introduced by a trained guide in a classroom setting. Some of these materials might make sense in a home environment, but the most important thing to take away from Dr. Montessori’s focus on sensorial learning is the need for children to use all their senses to explore and learn about their world.
There are so many activities that help your child learn with all their senses. But before I continue, I have to touch on one more topic: sensory bins. Sensory bins are NOT Montessori aligned. Remember: Montessori activities are close-ended and have control of error. While sensory bins can be a fun activity, they can also overwhelm a child. There is simply no need for them! Children use their senses all the time to take in their world. We want to offer activities that isolate and refine those senses so that children can use them to make sense of their world. A sensory bin might activate the senses, but it doesn’t isolate or refine them.
Here are some tips on how you can activate your child’s senses with Montessori activities at home:
- Involve your child in everyday activities: Try inviting your child to be involved in an age-appropriate way in your daily life. Washing dishes in soapy warm water, putting peeled potatoes into a pot, wiping their place with a damp cloth, pushing a broom across the floor, moving laundry to the dryer, matching socks, folding dishrags. All of these things are great examples of household activities young children can be involved in that activate their senses and give them a wonderful sense of purpose. Watch your child blossom and feel great pride as they help you in the house. Remember to always invite them to participate. This isn’t about chores or contributing to the household to lighten the load. If they aren’t interested every time or at all, that’s ok. You keep inviting and they will choose when they are ready.
- Spend time outside: Nature is the best way to activate your child’s senses! Sight, smell, touch, and sound are all on full alert outside, taking in everything around them. We live in a major city and this isn’t always easy to accomplish. I find it helps to do some research in your area and find out what outdoor options you have, like local farms, parks, playgrounds, and natural spaces. Even if you live in an apartment like we do and don’t have a private yard, there are options for you! Let your child walk barefoot, balance on rock walls, collect rocks, sticks, leaves. Even if you only have a balcony, get a pot, some dirt, and some seeds and grow something, maybe even a vegetable they can taste at the end. Just an afternoon of digging in the sandbox in our courtyard is so satisfying for my son, running the sand through his fingers, pouring it in and out of buckets.
- Choose natural materials when possible: Natural materials like wood, cotton, silk, and wool give children appropriate tactile feedback. They weigh an appropriate amount for their size. I will say that I am all for DIY projects (I have at least 6 running at any given time) and I know it is, both in regards to finances and storage, not possible for most families to buy everything new and wood all the time. It isn’t 100% necessary to have only wood toys! Here is how we choose which toys to buy and which to DIY:
- We make a budget for purchasing or DIYing new activities for our son.
- We make a list of activities which he would be interested in in the next 2-3 months based on our observations.
- We choose which ones we can realistically DIY with the least amount of work and supplies. We try to make things from natural materials if it makes financial sense and the supplies are easily available to us.
- We then evaluate the rest: Can we buy some of it used to save money? Does someone we know have the materials already and maybe we can borrow them? (I scour multiple second-hand apps and websites about 2-3 times a week to see if I can find good deals for now and the future).
- Whatever is left, we try to find deals for online or at local stores. We do buy some things new, but it is only what is left at the end of the process. It is also only that which we really feel our son will benefit from.
- Introduce a variety of art materials: One great way to activate your child’s senses is through a variety of art materials. Some materials we particularly enjoy in our household are:
- Stabilo Woody pencils: They are large and easy for my son to grip. They also respond well to touch and produce vibrant colors. (Bonus: they wipe off almost any flat surface and can even be used to draw on windows!)
- Tempera discs: They are easy to use and also produce vibrant colors with less mess than liquid paint. They only need water and a paintbrush to use.
- Finger paints: We use these both on paper as well as in the bathtub! Painting in the bathtub is one of my son’s favorite things to do and he often paints the whole tub as well as himself.
- In addition to these specific materials, we offer stickers, stamps, clay, playdough, and various different types of paper, both in weight and color, on a regular basis.
- Allow your child to explore household items: Young children want to explore everything, not just their activities and toys. Give your child access to select, age-appropriate household items like a clean hairbrush, a whisk, a large spoon, or a dishcloth. Allow them to explore in whatever way they feel comfortable so long as it is safe. The more different but isolated sensory experiences (i.e. not an entire kitchen drawer at one time) you can give your child, particularly when they are very young, the better they can learn and understand their world as they grow.
In the end, we are sensory beings who use our senses all day, every day. Choosing activities with this view will help you make decisions that will activate, isolate and refine your child’s senses.